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Furloughing working parents during school closure

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Olivia Bailey and Hannah Pike, from Harrison Drury’s employment team, outline how furloughing may be an option for employers wanting to support employees that are home-schooling during the current national lockdown.

On Monday 4 January 2021, the government enforced stricter measures nationwide, due to the latest surge in coronavirus cases. As a result, schools have closed to all pupils until at least February half term, except for vulnerable children and children of key workers. In these already difficult times, parents will be wondering how they can once again manage their working life alongside childcare and home-schooling responsibilities.

Employers will also be wondering what they can do to help working parents during this time.

Can parents be placed on furlough?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), more commonly known as ‘furlough’, has been implemented to support individuals whose jobs aren’t feasible during the pandemic.

Whilst employers are not obliged to place employees on furlough, the government has confirmed that employers can engage the CJRS to support staff that are looking after children. Therefore, employees are eligible for furlough if they cannot work ‘due to caring responsibilities’ resulting from coronavirus, which includes childcare.

Employees can be furloughed providing that they were . Please see our blog: Furlough extension – everything you need to know, for more details on the operation of the Scheme.

The CJRS is also available for employees who cannot work due to workplace closure, or if work has diminished as a result of the pandemic. The extremely clinically vulnerable can also be furloughed, if it would not be safe for them to work (if they cannot work from home).

What do employers need to know about the furlough scheme?

The furlough scheme provides furloughed staff with 80% of their salary, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. The government contributes the full 80% of salary, but employers must make the pension and national insurance contributions. Employers may elect to top up the extra 20% of salary, so that employees continue to receive 100%, but they are not obliged to do so. The 80% contribution from Government will be maintained until the end of April 2021.

There is no requirement to furlough staff full-time. Employers can use the scheme flexibly, or on a part-time basis, to reduce employees working hours, if required. Employees only need to be furloughed for a continuous period of seven days, rather than three weeks as before. This can help parents to manage their workload alongside childcare, without having to stop work completely.

Employers still need to consult and obtain their employees agreement before implementing a period of furlough, as some staff members may not accept a cut to their wages of 20%. Employers should therefore ensure all staff are communicated with regularly, whilst remaining open to discussing other adjustments, such as temporary changes to working hours.

Do I need to furlough all employees who have children to look after?

There is no automatic obligation to furlough staff, but most unions are urging employers to do so, to prevent employees having to take unpaid leave to care for their children.

Many working parents will feel that they have no choice but to take unpaid leave, cut their hours, or even leave their jobs altogether. Employers should communicate with their staff to ensure they are receiving any necessary support. If furlough is not a suitable option, employers could consider implementing ‘flexible’ or ‘agile’ working, which will enable staff to change their working patterns to help cope with the added pressures resulting from the pandemic.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme provides employers and employees with a practical solution to the demands on working parents. It may not be suitable for all business types, but there are other options available. Ultimately, employers should remain as flexible as possible to support employees who might be struggling.

 

Harrison Drury’s employment team can assist you in implementing the (CJRS) furlough scheme and with arrangements for your workforce that a caring for children. If you wish to discuss CJRS further, please contact our employment team on 01772 258321.

 

 


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